3rd February, 2022

Review: The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher (Headline Review)

One hundred years ago a small bookshop on the Paris left bank published James Joyce's Ulysses, a novel that would become a Modernist classic. It is quite fitting that, just in time for the centenary, Kerri Maher's novel came out earlier this year. The Paris Bookseller tells the story of Sylvia Beach who opened an English bookshop in Paris in 1919. Little did she know then that her shop Shakespeare and Company would become a hub for the so-called Lost Generation of writers.

For me, this was a fun historical novel. Having a long-standing fond attachment to today's Shakespeare & Co. (which is an entirely different shop but built on the tenets of Beach's original store) and being a fan and teacher of Modernist literature, I enjoyed the story a lot, even if as a fictional text it - of course - takes certain liberties and adds facts and conversations etc. to the plot that may never have happened. But that's okay because we know this is not a biography and Maher clearly says so herself in a "notes" section. 

Maher nicely captures the atmosphere of Paris in the 1920s as well as the relationships between all the creative people who made Beach's shop their meeting place. I loved how the author details the liberal mindset and various homosexual relationships. Sylvia's long relationship to Adrienne Monier is here described in great detail and I very much enjoyed getting a glimpse into sapphic life one hundred years ago. At times the focus on this part of the story became a tad much though and I had the feeling that a few sex scenes were simply thrown in to spice up the story whenever the plot became a bit slower. It's a minor thing but it bothered me because it was simply unnecessary. 

The Paris Bookseller is a great fictional take on one of the most interesting literary times in Europe. Highly recommended!

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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